Camille’s Voice: We Don’t Make Widgets

By Camille Maddox, from Emory University working with the Community Planning and Economic Development Department

Hi, my name is Camille Maddox and I am a senior at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.  I am double majoring in Economics and African American Studies.  Through the Urban Scholars Program I am working at the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED).  Working at CPED has allowed me to learn about a number of economic development initiatives that are currently taking place in my neighborhood and throughout the city of Minneapolis.  Additionally, it has allowed me to view the different methods used when developing these initiatives.  As someone who is interested in working with organizations aimed at creating sustainable economic growth in North Minneapolis this has been an invaluable learning experience. 

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Not only does the Urban Scholars Program allow scholars to learn from the work being done in their departments it also provides scholars with the opportunity to take part in a number of events.  These events introduce the scholars to different aspects of work in the public sector.  One of these events was the Brown Bag Lunch Series: We Don’t Make Widgets. During this lunch we were able to discuss our reading of the book We Don’t Make Widgets: Overcoming the Myths That Keep Government from Radically Improving by Ken Miller.  Jodi Molenaar-Hanson from the City Coordinator’s Office led the discussion. 

The book outlines three myths that keep government from radically improving.  These myths include: we don’t make widgets, we don’t have customers, and we’re not here to make a profit.  The myth that we don’t make widgets translates to our belief that what we do is intangible; therefore, we cannot measure or improve it.  The myth that we don’t have customers is related to our belief that the people we serve did not choose us; therefore, keeping them happy is not a priority.  Lastly, the myth that we’re not here to make a profit refers to our belief that we do not have an incentive to continuously improve our services or achieve results.

 Our discussion focused on how failing to overcome these myths have led to inefficient processes that do not achieve our desired outcomes in City Government.  We were able to give examples of inefficient processes our departments currently use.  The example I brought up was the application process used by the STEP-UP Summer Jobs Program to assess the applicant’s work readiness.  It was determined the process is very subjective and there is no evidence to suggest it is accurate or effective in its assessment.  One recommendation STEP-UP is considering to improve this process is to assess the applicants’ work readiness after they complete work-readiness training, which each applicant has to complete prior to obtaining a summer job.  Thus, the application process would only be used to determine if the applicant is eligible for the program. 

After discussing inefficient processes, we discussed what departments do to improve these processes.  Jodi stated that when attempting to fix these processes we often make the processes more cumbersome by adding to them instead of reconfiguring the processes.  We ended the Brown Bag Lunch by discussing the recent steps the City of Minneapolis Government has taken to help the government run more efficiently.  Our next step is to figure out how we can help our departments find ways to radically improve.

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